February 10, 2011

Books on the Bus a Mount Vernon hit

Reading program helps school keep behaviors good and minds sharp

MOUNT VERNON -- The daily bus ride home used to be a noisy event, with students acting out and straying from seats.

click image to enlarge

School bus driver Charlene Fales hands Maranacook Community High School sophomore Jess Benjamin a bag of books to read during the Monday run through Mount Vernon. Benjamin read to kindergarten students Chae McLaughlin and Claude Futrel.

Staff photo by Andy Molloy

Now, Mount Vernon Elementary School students spend the ride reading to themselves, reading to friends and listening to their friends read.

Bus rides have become noticeably more peaceful because of it, students and bus drivers say.

"It just makes the bus a better place," said Delaney Crocker, an 8-year-old second-grader.

Since the start of January, Mount Vernon Elementary School teachers have challenged their students to read during bus rides. Students submit bookmarks as they do it, which makes them eligible for weekly prize drawings.

The "Books on the Bus" program got its start in the fall, as Mount Vernon Elementary School staff members tried to find a way to keep three kindergarten boys in their seats during bus rides.

Their solution?

Recruit a Maranacook Community High School student on the same bus to read to them regularly.

"It was just a lot for them to sit there," said Sarah Caban, lead teacher at the Mount Vernon school. "They were having trouble."

The initiative expanded almost by chance one day when Blenny Butterfield, a transportation supervisor for the Maranacook-area school district, was filling in for an absent driver.

Searching for a way to persuade students to sit in their seats, Butterfield instructed bus riders to take out books and start reading.

"Anything to try to keep them busy," she said. "It did the trick pretty good there."

Soon enough, buses wouldn't drive away from Mount Vernon Elementary School without bags filled with books from the school's library.

"The bus is a tough place for behaviors," Caban said. "It's a lot to expect them to hold it together for a half hour, 40 minutes."

But the regular bus reading time is helping. Not only are the books taming students' behavior, but the time students spend reading on the bus is that much more time they spend reading.

"There's nothing really to do on the bus, so I just read," said Jacob Galati, an 8-year-old third-grader. "It's the only thing to do."

Students can even participate in Books on the Bus if they're prone to motion sickness while reading in a moving vehicle, or if they're just starting to pick up reading skills -- they can participate in the program by having other students read to them.

"They really take great pride if they can read to somebody," teacher Linda Smith, who writes a weekly travel column for the Kennebec Journal, said of her first-grade students. "It's got enough options that anybody can do it."

Now, Caban and Butterfield want Books on the Bus to spread beyond Mount Vernon to the other three towns in the Maranacook district: Manchester, Readfield and Wayne.

"They're staying in their seats. They're not up jumping and moving around," Butterfield said. "Plus, it's giving kids a chance to read to other ones. It's a win-win situation."

On top of that, the class whose students submit the most bookmarks by February vacation are in line for a pizza party.

Matthew Stone -- 623-3811, ext. 435


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